In the last couple of session we have had good turnout and excellent weather. It was a great time to work on our fielding ahead of the start of the season.
In the big group session I wanted to focus both on sharpening the infield catching and getting players into "outdoor batting mode" (where timing is very different). So I set up a number of stations around the outfield.
After a group warm up of some basic movement and ball handling we did a throwdown drill at the stumps, then broke into groups.
I experimented with sending the players into the nets in groups of four to bat against the machine and real bowling. This worked well because I could group players of similar standard together. It was helped by two guys coming along who just wanted to bowl so could wheel away while others focused on batting.
This system worked well: A large group was broken into smaller groups and so could get more quality time on each skill.
The risk of this is that players are relied upon to do the drills themselves. No hand-holding from the coach. This means that if the players decide between themselves a drill is not for them, they don't do it.
So what was the reaction?
Fielding was high on the agenda, with a lot of guys gravitating to the high catch station and sticking there. The Katchet was popular too, but it didn't take long to change from Katchet catches to high catches and boundary fielding.
A small number also did throwdowns against the throwdown net, but most people were not concerned with batting drills and more into the fielding. No one did the tip and run game I set up on the outfield. This is all good feedback and I accept it without concern. Although, I do want to be careful to make sure we are taking our fair share of low and flat catches alongside the big ones.
I'm still searching for drills that can be done without my input and also don't switch to high catching straight away. We need to get the balance between high, flat and low catches. We also need to track results better as the whiteboard still remains "forgotten" every session.
However, the guys are great at doing their own thing with little input from me and I feel this is an area where they are learning to be self-sufficient.
The second session, with the focus on bowlers, saw some interesting feedback.
I tried a couple of different drills, neither of which really worked with the numbers (not enough volume per player) but still had benefits: hitting the stumps from 20 yards and inner ring fielding against a real batsman.
What was interesting was the feedback. One player was busy making up modifications to drills to make them harder. Another was clearly grumpy about not getting enough balls (but said nothing) and a third engaged me after the session about how he didn't feel the intensity was high enough.
I enjoy both the third and first reactions, but the middle one less so. If you don't tell me what you want, how can I make it happen?
Nevertheless, the positive message I got was to think about how to create more volume and more intensity with the drills. Fielding in practice is about a few things and to get the balance right is tough. You need,
- Basic technique (especially throwing)
- Anticipation and reading the batsman
- Volume (number of catches, throws and stops)
- Endurance and recovery ability
- Intensity (power of hits)
- Context and pressure
In club cricket, you need to hit all of these in a limited time. In every drill some areas get more focus than others. Sometimes I get it wrong and it's not enough about any of them. I need to stamp that out.
But mostly there is something you can take from every drill. It's about the mindset of the players way more than how hard the ball is hit.
For example, the drill where we do slip catching practice is very tough to get right. It requires an accurate throw, a nick from me and a catch in the slips. It's easier from an underarm throw but the speed of feed is below match pace. Do we not bother with the underarm? My thinking is that you develop antipation, honing technique, developing patience and getting a high volume all in one drill. That's good, if you accept the limitations. Naturally you move on to faster overarm feeds later and that gives you a better intensity but will cost in volume. This is not bad either, just different.
So, my number one aim is to make sure I get the message across that every drill has something positive you can take from it.
Secondly, I want to ensure my delivery skills are good enough to provide the intensity and accuracy when I am hitting balls. Third, I want players to tell me what they want, rather than just complaining they don't get what they need. This is not the culture at the club, but it happens from time to time. It ties back in to players knowing themselves and what they need better than me. Until my mind reading skills develop, they will have to tell me!
Last, I would like more proof these things work. If it's true that smashing the ball at someone so they are scared is the best way to take catches in games, I'll do it. But u till we have more data, how can we know? That's why tracking catching and throwing outcomes is important in both practice and games. Then we will have a better idea of what works.
Finally, without an outdoor pitch, the bowlers had to work on the outfield. They lay down targets and bowled at them while someone practiced wicketkeeping at the other end.
It was standard stuff and a good way to get bowling from a full run up outdoors after months inside. Ideally we would use PitchVison for this, but the setup time would have been too long moving it out of the indoor nets. Plus, it doesn't pick up as well on the long outfield grass, and the bowlers wanted to use spikes.
When I think about it, this is another example of mindset in drills. Bowling on the outfield without a batsman is far from optimal. Yet, we accept it as having benefits and get on with it.
So let's take that mindset into every drill.